Town prove too strong for local rivals

Bank Holiday fixtures don’t always happen on the Monday they’re set for, agreement between the two clubs will see some games moved to a Tuesday and in the case of down here on the South Coast Littlehampton and East Preston Wednesday and the chance to squeeze an extra game in to watch.

Most of my games so far have been in the local area and I have seen both these sides on quite a few occasions in the past six weeks and it gives me an opportunity to do a separate piece for the Littlehampton Gazette as well.

Contrasting starts so far for both teams, Littlehampton with only one league defeat so far this season and East Preston yet to win a game in the Southern Combination Premier Division, but derby games bring about a different edge even at this level so it wasn’t going to be a stroll in the park for the home side.

Joint boss of the Golds George Gaskin sat this one out whilst his co-cohort Mitch Hand got some minutes on the pitch ahead of the weekend’s FA Cup tie with Whitehawk, Tom Biggs was also missing from what’s become the regular front four in the home side’s line up.

EP were as close to full strength for Simon Hull as they could be, but they almost found themselves a goal behind inside five minutes, Dion Jarvis unable to find the back of the net.

The visitors were acquitting themselves well to the game, they came with a worked on game plan but it was the hosts clearly creating the chances. Joe Benn’s first sight of goal came on 23 minutes when he finally found some space in the penalty area but dragged his shot wide of Sam Marsden’s goal. Marsden then produced a fine save just after the half hour mark to keep the scores level.

Then came the best effort of the half for EP, Shane Brazil took a ball over the top of the Town defence only to be denied by James Binfield one on one and the scores remained level at 0-0 going into the interval.

That scoreline last just a minute into the second half, Dave Herbert finding himself unmarked in the box when the cross came in and despite a small suspicion of handball, slotted the ball past Marsden for the opening goal.

The goal opened the game up a little as EP needed to come out more and be braver, but Town increased their lead on 55 minutes, a strong run from Lucas Pattenden saw Marsden save his shot but pushed the ball out to the feet of Benn and he made no mistake from six yards out.

Jarvis could have sealed the win after the hour mark, put clean through one on one with Marsden but the keeper saved well and the same again from substitute Scott Packer minutes later.

Brazil had a very good chance to halve the deficit 13 minutes from time but shot wide of Binfield’s goal having created the space for himself in the box whilst Lew Broughton couldn’t quite get on the end of a free kick that would have made things interesting had either effort found the net.

Town did get their third goal one minute from time, a mazy run from Jarvis saw the winger hit the bar with the ball falling kindly in front of Packer one yard out and he duly headed it over the line. There was even time for Jarvis to have a header ruled out for offside a minute later as the Golds moved up to second in the table.

The scoreline looks a little harsh on EP given their competitive nature throughout the game and they set out to make it hard for the hosts to control the game which for periods certainly worked.

Despite not fielding either Gaskin or Biggs, Town had more than enough to win the game in front of a good sized crowd once again and attention now turns to the FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round on Sunday (ko 3pm) against higher division and fellow Sussex side Whitehawk, another good crowd is expected in excess of the 220 last Wednesday, momentum is building nicely for the Golds.

East Preston exit cup with a whimper

After Saturday’s exciting FA Cup Extra Prelim Round game involving East Preston and Badshot Lea ended in a draw, Tuesday evening was the night for the replay.

Having dispensed with replays last year due to time pressures in the early part of the season, it was a little odd to have them back and being a programme contributor for EP it meant an extra column to be written in time for the game.

The reason for the replay, a 3-3 draw at the weekend with EP 2-1 up at one stage but needing to pull out a 95th minute equaliser courtesy of Matt Storm’s second goal of the game.

On a beautiful sunny Sussex evening it was the visitors who drew first blood once again, Dean Rule being allowed to run pretty much unchallenged down the left hand side to eventually slot the ball past Sam Marsden inside the first five minutes.

The early goal looked to knock the stuffing out of the home side, unable to keep possession and Storm ploughing a lonely furrow against the tall, imposing Lea centre halves.

With EP struggling to create anything of note and the visitors playing tidy football it wasn’t a surprise to see Badshot extend their lead on 36 minutes, Rule involved again on the left hand side, brought down in the penalty area needlessly and Nick Medcraft stepped up to put the spot kick into the right hand corner to give the visitors a comfortable half time lead.

EP certainly had it all to do in the second half and did begin brightly, pressing much further up the pitch but unable to carve out a single clear cut opportunity on goal. Lea were managing the game time very well and didn’t really need to step out of second gear throughout the 90 minutes, content to shoot from range without seriously troubling Marsden.

The home side did have changes from a host of set pieces, but while the delivery into the box was good, no EP head was able to make contact with the ball leaving Badshot to progress safely into the Preliminary Round in a couple of weeks’ time leaving EP boss Simon Hull to reflect on the slow start which ultimately sent his game plan out of the window before it had even been put into action.

A home tie against Isthmian League outfit Corinthian is the reward for Badshot, a side who have done consistently well over the past few seasons culminating in promotion under the FA re-structure and they will provide a very stern test for Tuesday night’s victors.

Hard fought pre-season win for East Preston

A balmy Tuesday evening this week took me to East Preston once again where they took on a Dorking Wanderers XI, expected to form their reserve side who this season will appear in the Southern Combination League Division One.

After a good start to pre-season for the home side, they were sluggish out the blocks for the first twenty minutes as the visitors got the ball down and played across the park stretching East Preston as much as they could.

Slightly against the run of play, the home side took the lead. Matt Storm gambled and won a 50-50 ball against the visiting keeper, coming off best to score and EP were in front.

With both sides getting into their stride, there was plenty of attacking intent but with very little in the way of clear cut chances during the remainder of the first half and the home side went into the break one goal to the good.

The second half was of a similar pattern although there was no slow start from EP this half and with a half time change of the once again impressive Storm replaced by Lew Broughton, there was no let up with attacking intent although while moving the ball around the pitch well Dorking were this time well marshalled by the EP back three of Charlie Robinson, Dan Howick and Ben Hack.

It was Howick who provided the hosts with their second goal, a superbly flighted free kick from Broughton found the head of the tall centre half and the ball nestled in the back of the net.

Substitute Dan Geal stung the palms of the visiting keeper in the final few minutes of the game, unleashing a rasping drive from fully 20 yards that was destined for the third goal of the game.

EP finished the stronger of the two sides and besides Geal’s effort could have added another goal or two, some stand out performances for EP in the shape of the previously mentioned back three whilst keeper Sam Marsden looked assured when danger did come his way.

A fine 45 from Storm and the same from his replacement Broughton who once fit will be a big asset to manager Simon Hull while Geal’s cameo in the centre of midfield showed class and composure in what is still a very young team but one that could excite and has the potential to upset the apple cart a few times this season.

Live football at last

Football. Fresh air. Fans. Tuesday night up and down the country was the moment non-league supporters had been waiting for since mid-December, a return to the stands and terraces that was long overdue.

However, most clubs have finished or didn’t even begin to play and a lot of fans will be eagerly anticipating pre-season friendlies which will begin in around four or five weeks’ time for Step 5 and 6 clubs.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had anything to significantly blog about other than the National League and the sorry state of Barnet’s season. So the announcement of one of my local sides, East Preston, to host a friendly against Pitching In Isthmian Premier Division Worthing was always going to get me into the ground.

It was the first time the PNLP (Premier Non-League Podcast) boys minus the northern based Chris May were out together at a game, a project I’m involved in with five other guys, 15 episodes in so far which isn’t bad considering we’ve had a real lack of football to talk about in months, available across all podcast platforms twice a month.

Regular readers will know I also write a piece for the EP programme, a different one for each home game and unique to them as I try and build a career. They were also my focus club last season when Terry Dodd became manager, an idea given to me by someone else so duly done. Terry obviously then left, Chris Horner took over only to be replaced by Under 23 duo Mike McCaffrey and Lee Thompson who were in situ when football ceased in November and took charge of the side for the recent Supplementary Shield games.

Since then McCaffrey left the club, Thompson was relieved of his duties in the past two weeks and chairman Terry Doyle installed ex Arundel boss Simon Hull as the new man in charge days after his release from the club up the river, McCaffrey has since returned to take the Under 23’s for next season.

With a new man in charge this was always going to be a bit of a scratch side for a one off as far as EP were concerned and with a side full of quality as the Rebels possess and some promising youngsters on the bench it was a good test for the home side.

It was no surprise to anyone to see Worthing dominate possession and whilst they were creating chances, the EP defence were just about equal to everything and it took an Ollie Pearce strike on 22 minutes to open the scoring.

Joel Colbran and Ricky Aguiar added further goals, the latter’s effort drilled from the edge of the box to give the visitors a commanding 3-0 half time lead.

The fourth goal arrived courtesy of Shaq Gwengue after a fine move and a smart finish, Rebels manager Adam Hinshelwood then making a raft of substitutions with most of the senior players making way.

EP’s best chance of the game came from a free kick just outside the box, the ball clipping the top of the Worthing crossbar on it’s way over and into the trees behind the goal.

As EP legs naturally tired as the game wore on Worthing added another three goals to the scoreline to give it a flattering look of 7-0 by the final whistle but a good workout for both sets of players.

On Wednesday morning I caught up with both Simon and Adam and both agreed having fans back in to watch was the biggest part of this game.

‘Fantastic to see fans back in the ground’ remarked Hull, ‘it gives everyone a lift and there was a great buzz around the Lashmar last night.’

‘Last night was an opportunity for us to have a look and learn about our youngsters. As yet we’ve been unable to have any training sessions with them but a great test against Adam’s quality outfit.’

‘That’s it for us now this season although we are planning pre-season training and that will start very early. Plenty to do but the boys are keen and the coaching staff are very willing.’

Hinshelwood was also very pleased to have supporters back, ‘it was great to play with fans in attendance again, it felt like a bit of normality for all of us.’

‘It’s been way too long to have that feeling, a simple cheer after a goal goes in, makes the game seem so much better and real.’

‘It’s been so important for us I believe to get together as a group for two reasons, firstly it would have been a long time if we had waited just for pre-season to get some match practise into the legs and I believe this would heighten the risk of injury.’

‘Secondly, for the players and everyone connected to have that engagement with the group again for mental health reasons and general well being it’s been massive for us all.’

And I think fans can identify with the mental health part, so many people I’ve spoken to over the months wanting a bit of normality, indeed seeing so many familiar faces in the crowd of 250 people shows how much it was wanted.

Great to be out with mates just enjoying the game, hopefully The Hive beckons for me for the next week to finish off the season then the hard work starts again trying to get this writing career off the ground, if any clubs are interested in what I can do for them you’ve only got to ask East Preston, Langney Wanderers or Met Police……………….

The wait goes on

Saturday football once again! Well live streaming has been fine coupled with FA Cup weekend’s whilst the game was served another suspension, nothing beats waking up on the first day of the weekend knowing you’re off to football.

I had plenty of local choice too, not really deterred by the lack of Step 3 and 4 games and of course those in Step 5 and 6 who are unable to play, with East Preston facing eight away games in a row after this weekend I easily decided on a trip to The Lashmar.

For those of you who read regularly I’ve been following the fortunes of the West Sussex outfit since the start of the season and over the course of the eight away games there will be a couple of updates to find out whats been happening and what’s new.

Now under the tutelage of Lee Thompson and Mike McCaffrey, the side were still searching for their first win of the season with Crawley Down Gatwick the visitors, a midweek defeat to Lancing on the season’s resumption not the start the duo wanted.

What I didn’t expect when I arrived at the ground was to see well-known Barnet FC fans Steve and Ann Percy around two hours from home for them, needless to say there was a lot of Barnet talk but not at the expense of watching the game!

Not surprisingly the pitch was pretty heavy given the amount of rain on the South Coast over the last few days but both sides certainly didn’t shirk from the challenge and the early exchanges were very even, chances at both ends but not enough to break the deadlock.

EP keeper Steve Alfrey was becoming the busier of the two custodians as the half wore on however but little was put either side of him keeping the scoreline blank. Just as we were all set for things being equal at half time the visitors popped up with a goal, striker Lewis Croal with a superb finish just on the half time mark, harsh on the hosts who had done enough for the scores to remain level going into the interval.

What happened at the beginning of the second half baffled quite a few in the ground including me. Alfrey was out early from the changing room and made his way over the to bench to the bemusement of those around us to question if he had been sent off but remaining in full kit.

Having stood close to the changing rooms as the teams walked off, Alfrey had entered into some colourful dialogue with the match officials and only once the second half had begun with Chad Milner in goal and some ten minutes elapsed did we realise he’d been sin-binned for dissent!

The sin-bin certainly hasn’t been enforced enough this season at this level compared to last year hence why I think we all forgot that referees do actually use it still!

Alfrey was back between the sticks when Crawley Down added their second on the hour mark, Guy Halding’s flicked header from a left wing cross unchallenged as it nestled inside the far post.

Just six minutes later Dave Brown made sure the points were leaving with the visitors as he smashed the ball home to put the game beyond the reach for EP. So the wait goes on for East Preston for that elusive first league win of the season and next up a trip to Little Common to try and reverse that statistic.

For the visitors two wins on the bounce keeps them inside the top ten clubs in the Premier Division and looking upwards rather than down, a very composed performance despite losing their keeper injured in the warm-up and Tony Jenner coming in to keep a clean sheet.

Another midweek coming up for more football, although destination unknown at the moment, but if I can be somewhere I will be somewhere……..

No corner turned yet for East Preston

Tuesday evening saw the last scheduled midweek game for East Preston after a busy couple of months cramming games in a fixture list than began a month behind its usual start date in August.

Like most clubs at this level and I know I’ve mentioned it fairly regularly, but they’ve done well off the pitch to keep people safe at games against a backdrop of diminishing volunteers and a constant battering of regulations to further reduce income that keeps these smaller clubs alive.

On the pitch things haven’t gone quite as expected since the game began again on 1st September. Just one win in all competitions in nearly two months wasn’t the way it was supposed to pan out and this time last week Terry Dodd tendered his resignation to the club committee which was accepted, Terry as we know through this blog doesn’t like losing and maybe just felt there was little he could to change things around despite his best efforts, money talks at all levels of the game.

Step forward Chris Horner! A rapid rise from the Under 23’s to 1st team manager in a few weeks, football does not stand still. As expected and often happens in the County League when a manager leaves, players invariably do as well and this situation is no different.

Despite most playing in the weekend defeat to Longfield, around eight left the club prior to Steyning’s visit to the Lashmar, Guy Church and Tijan Sparks appearing to be the only survivors from the Dodd reign and the side littered with new signings and promotions from the Under 23 squad.

Having seen EP two weeks or so prior to this one, they put up a strong fight in the Vase against Fisher, but capitulated three days later, 4-0 down at half time to Hassocks before rallying back to 4-3 which in a way leaves you unsure which EP makes its onto the pitch.

It did look to be a long night in front of the home side as they dealt with some strong attacking pressure in the opening minutes, the visitors coming close to opening the scoring on eleven minutes the EP defence just managing to clear off the line after pinball in the penalty area.

The hosts were able just to deal with everything the visitors threw at them and a fine save from debutant keeper Adam Brodrick kept the scores level. Steyning though eventually took the lead just before the half hour mark, an unmarked George Cousins on hand to fire past Brodrick, who was unable to hold onto the ball, and give Town a deserved lead that they took into half time.

With the ball just not holding up with the strikers, EP struggled to fashion many clear cut chances despite the midfield promptings of Jamie Frankling and the returning Tijan Sparkes.

The lead was increased for the visitors on 58 minutes, James Magrath’s header from a corner couldn’t be kept out and EP were now having to take a few more risks to try and get back into the game.

The introduction of Matt Storm from the bench provided a few flurries in the visitor’s penalty area and EP indeed should have pulled one back but as so often this season the lack of attacking intent send the home side to another league defeat.

Plenty of work to be done for the new boss and I caught up with him after the game to see what’s planned to try and turn things around:

‘My first objective is to get the goal average down and I guess we did alright with that tonight, that was our lowest defeat for a while, but at the same not clinical enough still in front of goal. I thought Adam did well in goal for his debut and will get sharper with games.’

‘Both of my strikers are deadly in front of goal and once they get into a good rhythm as a partnership I’m hoping things change.’

‘I am actively looking to bring some more experienced bodies in, I have dialogue open with a few clubs, but they have to be the right person both on and off the pitch to take us in the right direction. With no budget it is making things harder, but watch this space……’

Have to mention Dan Howick who had a fantastic game alongside skipper Charlie Robinson at the back for EP, head or foot on everything that came his way, those two could be key along with Sparks and Frankling in front of them plus three or four players with good experience to get the side up the table.

Dodd: People will tell you I’m the worst loser

Saturday was a break from watching league action and delving into the FA Vase for the first time this season, which tied in nicely with the two week blog update for East Preston and their boss Terry Dodd.

So far this season it’s been a tough watch for EP fans and I think Terry would agree he’s learnt more in seven weeks about managing at this level of football than he did in his spell at Wick last season where things were fairing much better.

That’s not to say he’s doing a bad job, far from it. All of you know money talks in football and even at this level and Step 6 below without even a small budget attracting players is very hard and even more so when you’re in a saturated area for clubs to choose from.

The effect covid has had on these clubs up and down the country is immense, I’ve said it lots of times I am surprised that so few have gone under and that is huge credit to the band of volunteers that keep them going week after week. The latest countrywide restrictions mean football club bars have to be closed by 10pm, which throughout the week and especially midweek match nights are once again crippling and playing with the very future of our footballing pyramid.

In his programme notes on the weekend the chairman eluded to how much the club was losing. The previous Tuesday the bar took around £300 less than usual while the Under 23 game night saw around £200 going through the till which when you consider for a lot of clubs this money is what makes the football work it’s a wonder that all of them will get through to the end of the season.

Despite the reduced prize money in the national competitions this season it still provides some more income at a time when it’s most needed and the visit of Southern Counties East Premier Division side Fisher gave the opportunity for that and a break from league football.

Fisher have had an indifferent start to their campaign and sit mid-table in the predominantly Kent based league despite hailing from South London, EP meanwhile have found the going much tougher and currently sit bottom of the Southern Combination Premier Division.

Not too surprisingly it was a fairly even start to the first half, neither side able to create many clear cut chances although the visitors started to grow into the game the longer it went on. Backed by a very good travelling support Fisher went in front on 35 minutes through Melvin Adesida, pouncing on a loose ball in the area to slot past keeper Keelan Belcher. EP thought they were level just five minutes later through Thaikay David-Day but his shot was cleared off the line while the visitors almost had a second just before the break, hitting the bar much to the relief of Belcher and his defenders.

The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, Fisher looking the more likely to create chances while EP lived on the counter-attack to utilise the hard running of Conor Bull and the pace of Morgan Day. A superb one handed save from Belcher on the hour mark kept the hosts in the game and you felt with only the one goal still in it a lapse in concentration was all EP needed to get back into the tie.

However, that of course can stretch a game and Fisher finally put the tie beyond their hosts in the 79th minute, Jamie Yila rounding Belcher and slotting home between the two defenders on the line.

Day was the clear outstanding performer for the home side who badly missed Tijan Sparkes and Brad Lewis in the middle of midfield, the young side unable to cope with the physical presence of the visitors.

Catching up with boss Terry Dodd on Monday morning, he’s not too despondent about things and still expects the corner to be turned shortly:

‘The loss of Tijan and Brad is huge for us, it makes it harder to compete in the middle of the park. I think we’re creating the more chances in games and on Saturday felt that we were the better team in the 2nd half but not clinical enough with our finishing.’

‘The injuries are just killing us as there’s not enough time between games to the players fit again but we have got a bit of a break in fixtures in a couple of weeks so hopefully that will give us the time we need to get some more back out on the pitch.’

‘I am working on bringing in some more bodies to add to what we’ve got here and if I can bring in the right players to compliment what we already have here and then we will start climbing up the table.’

‘I’ve got some good lads here and I enjoy every game with them, obviously not the results at the moment! Everyone will tell you I’m the worst loser but I think I am learning more about myself, the team, and the game week by week. I hope they are as well and if they keep giving their all and learning all the time then results will easily turn around.’

Dodd confident of climbing the table

Since I last caught up with East Preston boss Terry Dodd, there has been an improvement in results and things are starting to look a little better as we come to the end of a packed September fixture list.

By the time next Tuesday rolls around the first team will have completed eight league and cup matches with contrasting fortunes in that time. The first win of the season duly arrived in the FA Vase last weekend at division lower Oakwood and the confidence that will bring is needed as we head into what is going to be another busy month in October.

Goals from Harry Franks and Cameron Lineham means EP are now off the mark for the season, but it also means some prize money coming to the club which is going to be a massive thing for all clubs this season in both FA competitions however big or small the amount. A home draw against Fisher in the next round will bring a little more money in as well, win or lose.

Prior to the Vase game a vast improvement saw the team hold Alfold to a 2-2 draw despite squandering a two goal lead but the defensive performance which was much improved on the previous week’s defeat to Loxwood which laid the foundations for the result at Oakwood.

The three new signings made before the defeat to Eastbourne Utd have added some much needed craft and guile while the return of Chad Milner to the Alfold game made a big difference, although he missed the Vase win. Working without a budget at this level does make the job a lot harder than it should be to get results and the club are very much aware and supportive of how things need to be done this season.

Dodd though is pleased with how things are starting to shape up but now expects the team to kick on:

‘I was pleased with the win last weekend, it has been coming with the way we’ve been playing over the last few games, although I didn’t think we played particularly well we still got the win and that’s all that counts.’

‘I am hoping it kicks off for us in the league now and I know I keep saying it but I really feel we aren’t too far away from all clicking together and once we do I think we’ll surprise a few people along the way.’

‘It’s always nice to have a cup run and we’ll be looking to do that, but we are aware we need results in the league and that is our main aim at the present moment. With all the games coming up again in large numbers next month we are going to need to have as many players available as we can, we’re lucky we have the Under 23 side and I’ve already called a few of them into the first team squad this season, I am however looking to bring in more attacking options in the next couple of weeks.’

For most clubs just being able to stay in business after a torrid few months is the ultimate aim, no-one can predict whether we will see everything through to the end of season and if we do how many interruptions we will encounter along the way.

Just a note about the club’s Under 23 side who have beaten a couple of County League Division Two sides in pre-season, they began their league campaign on Thursday evening at the Lashmar against Selsey and won 2-1. Bearing in mind they started the game with four 16 year olds, two 17 year old and one 18 year old and ended the game with five 16 year olds on the pitch, the future is a very bright one for this club if they can keep the players together.

EP travel to Horley Town this coming weekend ko 3pm whilst they host high flying Saltdean Utd on Tuesday night at The Lashmar ko 7.30pm.